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Engaging Voices: A Conversation with Michael Hiskey

Madelyn Worley
Madalyn Worley LMSW
, Content Manager, Engagez

As the event organizers, marketers, and other event professionals continue to find the best way to reach prospective customers, diverse audiences, important stakeholders, and a host of other important event attendees, this episode of ‘Engaging Voices’ will explore a game-changing way to reach audiences and host events. Our Chief Strategy Officer, Michael Hiskey sits down with me (Maddie, Engagez content manager) to discuss the asynchronous hybrid virtual event model!

Video Transcript

Maddie: Welcome everyone to our second episode of Engaging Voices. I’m so excited to be joined today by this individual. I am Maddie. I am going to be guiding us through our questions today.

I’m a digital content creator slash marketer and I love everything that Engagez is putting out there, and so I’m excited to chat some more with this individual. So Michael, can you introduce yourself? 

Michael Hiskey: I’m Michael Hickey. I’m currently the Chief Strategy Officer at Engagez and I’ve been in enterprise business to business marketing for 20 or so years.

Primarily, I worked in the data and cybersecurity and analytics spaces, but more recently I focused on marketing strategy and building community around business offering. 

Maddie: Yeah. That’s awesome. So you have extensive experience in designing and executing virtual events?

Michael Hiskey: yeah, over the course of my career, I’ve done a number of different CMO roles, chief marketing officer roles, and I’ve always had a big hand in events and everything from round table discussions and golf outings all the way up to thousand person conferences and trade shows.

I’ve always done a lot of that sort of stuff. I started adding virtual gatherings maybe 10 years ago and trying to expand on them, but primarily, over the last couple of years while we needed to do a lot more virtual I spent a lot of time, so I’ve probably executed just about over a hundred or so virtual events, online gatherings. And I like to do, cradle to grave from the initial ideation through what the agenda should be, all the way on up to finding sponsors, getting exhibitors set up and doing the execution. The emcee, the moderator at a number of these virtual.

Maddie: That’s really exciting. I also know that you have some experience implementing a certain model of a virtual event or even some kind of hybrid aspect. I’m familiar with this idea within the online learning atmosphere. But I think it’s really interesting to hear about how it applies to an event.

So you have implemented this concept of an asynchronous event model. Can you help us understand what that is?

Michael Hiskey: So I actually just penned an article about this that was in the Virtual Events Group newsletter. So an asynchronous hybrid virtual event. So this is a concept that should be a game changer for just about all kinds of gatherings, because it gets over a lot of the differences, a lot of the issues that we’ve had on strictly parallel hybrid events. So an asynchronous hybrid virtual event, differs from sometimes asynchronous learning, just to be clear. Is an event that doesn’t take place in parallel with the physical version of the event.

Generally, the online portion is done at a different time usually shortly after, days or, a couple of weeks after at most. And in this way, the online event is treated as an equal. Separate but equal and much about the online event is done natively live as opposed to, often in a parallel hybrid event.

That’s, it’s an afterthought. There’s just a live stream plugged in. 

Maddie: That’s really exciting and I like that you were able to help understand that it is different than that online space that many people might already be familiar with the concept of asynchronous. What in your opinion, what would be some benefits to utilizing this model to facilitate your event? 

Michael Hiskey: So I’ve been doing this kind of thing for years now. Obviously more in 2021 as we slowly started getting back to in-person events and some people either didn’t want to come out or some cities didn’t, or hadn’t opened up yet. People weren’t ready to rejoin society.

So what we learned in that was that there are lots of additional benefits. I think the biggest one is that the virtual isn’t a distant second thought or it’s not an afterthought. And that there’s a, has a lot of implications and I discussed those more in the article, so I won’t bore you with all of them here. 

One of the biggest points also is avoiding cannibalization these days. People have a bar in terms of what gets them out. They think about how valuable is the interaction I’m gonna have in person. And this is true for many people just leaving the house, not to mention business events.

And I think that when a virtual event is offered in parallel, the weather or convenience or competing priorities get in the way. But when the virtual event is offered later, they feel like getting the information sooner has some value. So it presents a reason to get out. There’s lots of additional benefits.

So attendees who had a great experience at a physical event, they can more meaningfully share that experience, with their networks online or social, whatever. So as opposed to saying, “Hey, I just went to a really great event, you should have been there.” They could actually say, “I just went to a really great event and you could see it too click here to register.” And that gives people a way to get on. And then, in the other, on the other hand, we talked about people not coming. People do get really busy and sometimes I really wanted to make it and I can’t, and, today’s just not gonna work. Today is not gonna work for this event, but next week I can still attend online.

You could also break it down on who the value is for. So speakers, in my experience, have really enjoyed the idea that they’ll get a nice recording of them presenting to a large audience, and then they have that and they could reuse that. But also if it didn’t go super well , and the virtual event is a week later they could either rerecord it or do it live then. So it gives them kind of another bite at that app. 

Lot of big benefits for sponsors, for events that have sponsors. Sometimes their staff’s pretty thin and they have limited resources, so if the same staff is trying to balance both, that’s hard to do on site at a live event. But when I do them asynchronously, I can give the importance needed and the attention needed to the online audience. And if I use the same staff, they actually can share some of what they’ve learned and focus on the people that are there for that moment. 

The other thing too, like all the advantages of virtual events that we talk about all the time, use the medium. I could jump right into your scheduling tool. You’re in front of your computer. I’m in front of my computer. Let’s get that follow up meeting scheduled right now. 

For event organizers I think the biggest benefits are better ability to monetize the event. And I often say that an asynchronous hybrid virtual event model should target about 150% of the revenue of the cost investment expectation as a, physical only. So assuming they have the same target and roughly the same or a consumable audience size, that’s relatable. Also it lets the thinly staffed event organizers concentrate on which audience and getting the right people and butts in that seat, etc.

Maddie: So I’m curious, and I’m gonna put you on the spot a little bit. I did not pre give you this question, but it was just something that I was just thinking about. So as you’re describing it’s almost two separate events happening, right? You have your in person one, and then much later you have the virtual event.

Is there a difference in the content that we might see as the physical attendee and then the attendee that attends the asynchronous thing later on? 

Michael Hiskey: It shouldn’t be much different in timing. It still needs to be relevant, so keeping it within a few days to perhaps a week or two is important point 1. Point 2 I would say that any online event, 45 minute speaking sessions work in a physical event for lots of audiences. They do not work online. No matter how interesting your speaker is, you’ve gotta tighten that up. So I would say redacting some of the, if you’re using a pre-recorded, like I recorded at the physical event and I’m gonna use it at the virtual, I can edit that down, make it a little bit sharper. If I’m doing a separate live stream, I wanna be just a little tighter on timing and consistency and get to the point. 

Maddie: That. Yeah, I think that’s a, that’s such a great maybe alternative for someone who is trying to engage different organizations, different types of people. In our last episode we talked with Margaret and we talked about different generations looking for different things with events 

Michael Hiskey: and of course with a virtual event. Given your background, Maddie, you understand neurodiversity and different personality types, virtual events, open up a range of possibilities for folks that. aren’t all that good at interacting in person or don’t prefer to interact that way I can get a lot more out of a smart introvert on a virtual event than I could in person. And if I think of this as an A or a B, then I lose a lot of that diversity and advantage. 

Maddie: Absolutely. So you also you started talking a little bit about monetization opportunities and that’s something every business, anyone who does events is thinking about, how can I monetize this? So what are some tips in monetizing an asynchronous hybrid virtual event?

Michael Hiskey: Sure. Let’s face it, the costs of putting on an event means that event organizers have to make some money at this. Even the non-profit organizations need to at least break even and hopefully get some donations coming in on top of that. So the first thing I’d say is don’t throw in the virtual event. Don’t make it a gimme. Don’t, throw it out there. Things are worth what you’re asked to pay for them. The other thing I would say is tweak the naming convention. So in my example, what I did, I would have the New York City conference maybe on a Tuesday and the. Boston Conference maybe on a Thursday. And then the following week I could have the Northeast Virtual Summit. And in that same vein on pricing, you could think about it as each of those things costs a hundred dollars to sponsor, but if I do all three, I can get it for $250 right? So never make the virtual free. You could package it in, but make sure it has an individual line item price. Otherwise, people are smart, they’ll just subtract one from the other and say so I’ll do that virtual for 50 bucks. No. You don’t want to do that.

Another important part is think about segmentation. In a perfect world, who would I have come to the physical event, right? I want a thousand people to come, really am I in person my physical event, I can’t afford a thousand people and that big of an a venue who are the 150 individuals I’d really like to be there and now I can focus my, advertising, my marketing, my thoughtfulness on those folks. At the same time, I could also decide whom to exclude from the physical event invite that I would invite to the virtual event, that I would still invite to the virtual component in the example I just gave you. New York, Boston, Northeast. For those familiar with the region, people in Buffalo are too far away from either of those cities, but they’re still part of the great Northeast Maine, Vermont, the same way I wanna include them and advertise to them, but primarily with the Northeast Virtual Summit versus the New York or Boston Conference.

The other thing I could do is, every event organizer is frustrated with people who registered and don’t show up or even moreover, people who really wanna attend, but that day doesn’t work. , this gives them the opportunity to get another bite at that apple. So as soon as the event’s over all those people that expressed interest or registered but didn’t attend, I could market to heavily to come to the online version.

Maddie: Yeah. I think those are all really great ideas and it also takes into account a lot the changes that we’ve seen happen in travel in general. Engagez actually just did an article about business travel right now as well that talked about some of those same things. Michael. Some people just don’t have it in their budget to send all of their employees to a physical event anymore. 

Michael Hiskey:

Venue costs are up, something on the order of 20 or 30%. In some cities, hotel costs are as much as 60% higher than they were even a few years ago. 

So it’s becoming cost prohibitive. And then, in addition to all the other things that I’m sure you’ll talk about in, in future episodes, sustainability, et cetera.

Maddie: Absolutely. Yeah. Everything that you’re saying seems to make perfect sense about this model. Why do you think we don’t hear about them as much? 

Michael Hiskey: This is just a new way of thinking and it’s different. In 2022, the pendulum swung hard as a reaction to the pandemic era to do everything you could in person. But within the B2B enterprise marketing space, there’s also a dichotomy in staffing, right there are physical field marketing people. They do physical events all the time, and there are digital marketing people that focus on online components and they have a different world to play in, at the same time, pre Engagez the platforms didn’t really cater to this model, and make it easy for me to do this asynchronous hybrid virtual event fashion. And finally, it’s a pain point that event organizers and attendees are feeling more today than they did in the past. So having a virtual event option is just a requirement now, and it wasn’t always, and as the realization that sort of the humdrum experience of just a basic Livestream. Whatever’s happening at the physical event, I can stream to a webpage that’s really not gonna cut it. They have to adapt and they have to overcome. So I think in the future, in the near future, we’ll see a lot more of these. ,

Maddie: Fingers crossed that we do. Cuz I think it’s a really great way to, hit as many, targeted people that you wanna hit. And it gives you some unique opportunity to bring in revenue, new faces, and really innovate in the content that you’re putting out there.

Michael Hiskey: Should be a win-win for all parties involved. 

Maddie: Absolutely. Thank you so much for chitchatting with me a little bit about this exciting asynchronous hybrid virtual event model. It is a mouthful. 

Michael Hiskey: It is a mouthful, and it’s it triggers more with engineering-type people that get what each one of those words means. And I sounded out in the article, but I think it’s important to think about it that way. In order to separate it and make sure you have a this is a materially different experience than what we know of as hybrid. 

Maddie: Thank you so much again for joining us for engaging voices or we look forward to more content that you can share with us about how we can engage our customers, how we can engage as a society. And thanks again. 

Michael Hiskey: Thanks for having me.

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